By Jack Frayne-Reid
A sliver of blood spindled down white-glossed bricks to the floor. With a thump, the skin on the end of his fist split against the wall and tiny paint flakes fell, reddened white. A family of cockroaches scurried, apparently for cover, under the upturned bedpan, levered slightly onto its side by fragments of shoe. Turning his bed over, he screamed;
“Let me back oot there!”
A hatch in the iron door slotted open, and through it peered an unblinking, searching eye, which slid down momentarily to reveal a horticultural eyebrow arched in splendid disapproval. It was the Master’s eye, which sounds more ridden with mystique than the sad reality; that of your quintessential aspirational type forever on the brink of reputability, but hampered by a manner of requisite brutishness and an inner life that betrayed just how little of his dire reputation could be chalked up to misunderstanding. It was a state of affairs that left him perfectly suited to the position of Master at Wormley Workhouse, but forever embittered that some other fellow had become the dazzling entrepreneur of his dreams.
“Let me see me aul’ Mam, ye fucken quim!”
He had brought the Scot in some two weeks earlier, having found the vagrant huddled illegally in the grounds of Wormley with his elderly mother, professing – convincingly, he might add – to be down and out and destitute. Once the standard familial separation along gender lines had occurred, he had observed the Scot waste no time in positioning himself as the workhouse’s most unimaginable lout; hooting and hollering and causing ruckuses with the other inmates and idling away the working hours with the trivialities of life. He pronounced the insipid mulch that was their dietary requirement “inedible fucken shite”, spitting it back in Matron’s face and, to cap it all off, brought contraband into Wormley after sneaking away one night to the city. More than once had the Master bent the rules that enabled him to administer a light clout to the juvenile inmates, raising the age of acceptability; such was the magnitude of the Scot’s obnoxiousness. The Master banged on the door but did not yet open it;
“Oi!” he adopted the fusty baritone of the constabulary, his seabed-deep cockney brogue pumped out in monochromatic blocks of supposed authority as the Scot pounded the wall inside. “I am a busy man, sir, with no time for such obstinate behaviour. I demand you cease forthwith in your programme of ruination for the room with which we have provided you.”
“How ‘bout ye take me tae the fucken mortuary?”
“I am afraid, sir, that the regulations set out under the Consolidated General Order do not specify that, should spirituous or fermented liquors be smuggled upon the premises, I must kill the perpetrator, but that he be placed in solitary confinement for a period of up to twenty-four hours – no matter how much either of us might favour the other way around.”
“Ya big girl’s cunt, eat mah fucken bolloc-“
“Sir, I implore that you shut your sauce-box with immediate effect!” he barked. “The medical examination yesterday confirmed my suspicions that you are severely psychologically ailed–”
“Oh fuck off–”
“Yes, yes, you are a very disturbed young man indeed – and I have in my possession sufficient documentation to prove it on an empirical basis.”
Now the Scot pounded on the door.
“Ya fucken meater, I’ll juice yer heed! Where’s me fucken mam? Ooh you’re gonna cop a mouse when we’re toe to toe, sonny, cop a fucken–“
“THERE IS SOMEBODY” he collected his breath, and dived back into the sentence with a stiltedly hushed tone “here to visit upon you. You see, in recent days I have been…deeply distressed by your sickness of the mind, and we here at Wormley are ill equipped to deal with such…well, I am a man of the Cross, sir, and to be perfectly frank the level of mental disease you have exhibited is…diabolic.”
There was a lull in the Scotsman’s programme of ruination.
“You callen me a fucken devil?” he asked.
“I am calling you, sir, unsuited to a further presence in this establishment on the grounds of the parlous state of your health.”
“I’m fine and fucken dandy – fighting fit!”
“Fighting fit, perhaps, but in light of such jollies with your fellow inmates I find myself very much inclined to disagree on the matter of your health, ill as it appears to me.”
“No, sir, for you have forfeited the right to my attentions and it is your turn to turn your ears to what I have now been on the verge of articulating for some time. I shall phrase it in the simplest of terms – would you care to leave the workhouse?”
“Aye, quit treaten me like some fucken lag and get me oot’a this rookery!”
“If I open this door will there be no further acts of violence towards either Wormley property or your fellow man?”
“Aye, aye, open it up.”
“Then I shall proceed to fetch the illustrious Doctor Hans Württemberg, a renowned expert on the human mind; even those as riddled with syphilitic decay as your own, who shall submit you to a course of medical treatment to which you are now bound by indissoluble verbal contract to complete. I should warn you that he shall arrive with an escort from the Wormley constabulary so, for God’s sake, man, no fisticuffs.”
“Fucken Mutton Shunters…” he muttered disapprovingly. The Master peered again through the hole, wary of another self-destructive fracas, but the Scotsman seemed resigned, staring into space apparently contentedly. Noticing the Master’s eye peering at him, he perched atop his upturned bed and smiled.
Württemberg was waiting in the grounds, having excitedly jumped off his carriage before the horses had even come to rest so that he could pace around, chomping on a cigar and observing a fine example of the looming brick monoliths the British used to house their disaffected poor. He admired the cruciform design, for the separation of its clientele into four different classes – the aged and physically impotent, the children, the able-bodied men, and the able-bodied women – reminded him of what he wished to do with the various facets of the human consciousness.
“Ah, Mr Collingdon, I was just admiring the architectural ingenuity of your workplace,” he politely intoned in his eloquent Austrian accent upon seeing the Master emerge from the front gate, “pray tell, where can I find the specimen?”
“I shall guide you and these fine officers of the law,” he nodded to the two bulky policemen who backed Württemberg “to the solitary confinement unit, where you shall first set eyes upon the vagrant in question. Like many of the Scotsmen, he has a predisposition towards violence and boozery.”
“I have yet to visit Scotland,” remarked Württemberg, as Collingdon led him towards solitary. “Nor the north of the country. It seems to me that in Britain a man of learning need go no further than its capital city, except perhaps to visit one of the great universities.”
“I trust, then, sir, that it does not trouble you to venture so far off the beaten path as Wormley.”
“No, no, Mr Collingdon, not at all, for these rural nonentities can be a most enlightening experience in and of themselves.”
“Well, I hope that you find your trip here to be a rewarding one… PINKERTON!” his attentions were yanked sharply away from his esteemed guest and onto a scurrying urchin. “What in the devil are you doing in the wing for able-bodied men, you wretched delinquent?”
“Eek, sorry, guv,” the child said, continuing to scurry, now towards their rightful section. “I’m right poked up about it!”
“Poked up as you may be, this is a disciplinary matter I shall attend to with immediate effect!” he shouted, then coughed, and apologised to Württemberg. “No doubt she was looking for her errant father. One must be stern with those wallowing in impecunious circumstances, lest they begin to feel the world owes them something.”
“This is the subject?”
Through the observational hatch, Dr. Württemberg saw the Scot standing upright as if to salute, eyeing his eye with a large, dentally depleted grin.
“Am I to believe that this man has a criminal history?”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Collingdon “I have been told that prior to his time at Wormley he was a known screwsman and a fine-wirer.”
“Meaning, doctor, that he picked locks and pockets in equal measure.”
Württemberg squinted through the hatch, peering at his subject with close scrutiny.
“And does he have a name?”
“Not that he has deigned to tell us.”
“Very good…” he murmured. The Scot was now observing him, with his eye pressed to the inner side of the hatch. Satisfied, Württemberg prised himself away from the door, clapping his hands together as if he meant business. “Let us meet our new friend.”
“Stand back!” barked Collingdon at the inmate.
The door swung open with an almighty thud against the wall, clearing a straight path to the Scot, who sat on the remains of his bed facing the doorway, in tattered clothes and glistening with sweat from his private orgy of destruction. He was still smiling.
“You’re me ticket oot the spike, eh?” he put chirpily to his new doctor.
“Yes, so it would seem, friend. I understand you are without a name?”
“Aye, I got a name alright, just not around this fucken arse inspector.”
Collingdon grabbed his ornamental walking cane from behind the door and whacked the Scot around the stomach with it, and again, and again. The members of the constabulary took his lead and advanced upon the inmate who had caused the Wormley staff such bother. To the surprise of all present, Dr. Württemberg stepped in front of the Scot.
“I will not have a finger laid upon this man,” the Austrian said, his soft tone hardening. “How dare you, Mr. Collingdon, as a result of petty personal grievances attempt to create further medical problems for me to have to address? Do you think my treatments are simple and concise? That I do not require an able-bodied specimen? Gentlemen,” he looked to his police escort. “Unclench your fists and escort this young man from the premises. I have no time for such brutishness as this.”
“The chains are, ah, a precautionary measure,” Württemberg made sure to add; “my friend.”
In the carriage, the two policemen were shackling the Scot into the corner of one of the two diametrically opposed rows of seats, leaving a couple of spaces next to him for them to crowd with their massive frames. Opposite him, Württemberg took a quick dab of snuff and sneezed. An assistant handed him a wad of academic papers. Nobody spoke whilst he read; nobody wishing to interrupt the hallowed act of this great professional. Eventually, Württemberg cleared his throat pre-emptively, and spoke directly to the Scot.
“Have you come to remember your name as of yet?”
“Aye,” said the Scot. “Colm.”
“Am I to presume that is a Scotch name?”
“I was under the impression you were a Scotsman.”
“Very well. You will have noticed the documents I have been buried in for some minutes.”
“I have been reading a new study on the great passion of my life – psychoanalysis. I wouldn’t suppose it has yet achieved much theoretical primacy in Britain, particularly not among what the French term the sans-culottes; the lower-classes, such as yourself. But in Vienna, where I enjoyed my education, new ideas are opening up; ideas of an astonishing boldness, which redefine one’s worldly existence. Would you like a smoke?”
“Aye,” Württemberg sparked a cigar and handed it to Colm.
“My professor taught me, among other things, never to trust a man who would decline a smoke. Of course, this judgement undoubtedly pertained to he himself being a profuse cigar smoker…but I digress…”
The carriage stuttered to a halt.
“Must be our drag,” the two coppers stood up, one of them chucking Württemberg the keys to Colm’s bonds. “look after this duffer alright, doctor. Been in solitary for a day and ‘e still seems drunk as a boiled owl.”
“I am sure that is merely his manner. But many thanks for accompanying me, officers – to associate with you has been of the utmost pleasure to me.”
Before the carriage thundered once more onto the road, Württemberg rose and benevolently unbolted his charge’s chains. For some reason, with the officers gone, Württemberg was taking pinches from his snuff box at increasingly regular intervals.
“Resuming our prior conversation,” said the doctor. “I have been enjoying a selection of papers on new psychoanalytic methods and debates. But perhaps prior to our, ah, collaboration, I should brief you upon the core tenets of psychoanalysis. You are perhaps unaware of our raison d’etre – oh, I apologise, my friend, for I travel frequently and have a tendency to lapse into French – what I mean is our primary goal as a movement, which is to,” he gesticulated wildly “break the hegemony of the superficial on our society, and expose and explore the aspects of human existence heretofore relegated to our unconscious. The problem with these new writings,” he said, grabbing a messy fistful of them “is that they are nonsense – detritus, absolute poppycock. These are deeply conservative thinkers, and suffice to say the path I have trodden has deviated somewhat from theirs of late. This paper…it is like a loaf of bread made from clockwork – foolish and impractical, as if its aims were to draw the repression from the subject and then stuff it misshapenly back in once more. Patients are expected to go back out into the world with an increased awareness of their true, subconscious desires, but rejecting the liberation they bring with them. The flashes of genius that birthed the movement have stagnated, and thus what psychoanalysis requires is a new, radical approach, a pragmatic approach;” he sniffed, “a mechanical approach.”
The carriage stopped in its tracks.
“And now,” he smiled. “Short of us being accosted by highwaymen, I can only deduce that we have arrived at my laboratory.”
“I tried to tell him, you know,” Württemberg began as they dismounted the carriage “my professor. But he would not listen – he would not bow to my contention that the biggest restraint placed upon man’s earthly potential was a refusal to bow to the desires that overcome us. My friend, I am an advocate of the liberation of the id, the emancipation of the unconscious. And this,” he produced his floridly engraved tin snuff box. “is the start of it.”
“What ya wan’ me to do wi’ that?”
“You don’t know, dear boy? It’s a snuff box.” they stopped on a dirt patch by some unwieldy oaken gates, Württemberg’s assistant scurrying after them.
“Stuff of rich men. Sniff that poncy shit all day that don’t give you no hop.”
“No, no, sir, I quite assure you that you will get plenty of hop from my snuff. In fact, it is disingenuous of me to even characterise it as snuff, for it is something far beyond such trivial affectations – truly a transcendent and, dare I say, magical elixir.”
Colm took a sniff of the white powder as a couple of barrel-bellied guards dragged open the gates.
“You will start to feel a libidinous sensation accompanied by the most gorgeous rush of excitement. I assure you that this is perfectly natural,” Württemberg elaborated, and Colm started to feel like he had had ten-thousand volts pumped into him – in a good way. “for it is a perfectly wonderful medicine.”
“Fucken aye, doctor, I’ll dance to your tune if it’s this sweet.”
“Euphoric, is it not? You shall have a superior capacity for exertion of the mind and body until the effects it induces begin to subside, in the event of which I shall dose you up once more.”
“How long shall I be in its throes?”
“How long shall you be dancing at this delirious sensory ball? All day!”
“All day…” he pondered.
“Does that sound to you like an adequate plan of action?” Württemberg’s medical practise appeared to be based in an old manor house – the kind that would give the American, Poe, a nervous breakdown.
“Indeed it does, doc. I’m something of a boozer me’self so this splendid medicine is just the trick.”
“My dear boy, you are labouring under a fatal misapprehension to compare the miraculous properties of the coca plant to those of a common inebriant such as alcohol. It is a carpet to the stars; the closest thing to a moral exoneration of the colonisation of the Americas. Nor does it have any side effects of dependency, contrary to what certain propagandists may tell you.”
“Am I at liberty to pose a query to you?” Colm attempted to talk decisively.
“Certainly, dear boy.”
“What’s gonnae happen about me aul’ mam?”
“She is in the workhouse, is she not?”
“Aye, stuck in that fucken pigsty with that arsehole Collingdon.”
“Well, I’m sure we could come to some arrangement regarding your mother when your treatment has run its course.”
“That’s just what I was hoping ye’d say. Yer all right, doc.”
“Thank you, Colm,” smiled Württemberg, “you are a fine young man yourself.” the hallway was littered with flashes of arcana – a suit of armour here, an antique harp there – that had been put to ornamental use, placed at the front as if to give guests a strong immediate impression, presumably because there was no actual function for them in any of the ample rooms born by the house. A spiral staircase painted in peeling gold snaked upwards, its considerable length betraying the enormous gulf between the ceiling and flooring downstairs. But, said Württemberg, “we shall be confining ourselves to the lower quarters. Through here, please.”
He pushed open some oak doors somewhat less monolithic than the outer ones, and Colm could not help but blink in the harsh glow of what must have been tens or hundreds of electric lights; an army of gnawing simulacra of the sunshine. As Colm attempted to bury his eyeballs in his arm he stumbled forward, just beginning to register his other senses again. His nose began to twitch to the scent of – maybe, just maybe – an oven that had been left running to the detriment of not just the food but the mechanism itself, and the matted musts of sweaty men packed together in a sardine-like fashion.
“The subject has arrived!”
“Aha, the subject!”
Colm opened his eyes, feeling them squirm in their sockets as they adjusted to the light. He was standing centre-stage in a particularly theatrical operating theatre. The sides of the expansive hall were lined with row upon row of observational benches, lined in turn with venerable gentlemen peering through their monocles at the most curious subject who had just availed himself to their collective gaze. One person kept talking…
“…and I shall etch the equation into the subject’s skin with the hottest of waxes…”
“Please, gentlemen, quieten down,” Württemberg bade his observers, and the chatter ceased. “And may I remind you, Doctor Pope, that you are a mere witness to this unique phenomenological occasion, and that it is controversial that you even be allowed to practise medicine at all after the debacle with the antelope in Crouch End. Nurse Trinket, would you be so kind as to fetch my apron?”
The nurse trundled along to a table occupied by medical paraphernalia and picked up the apron, which had been neatly folded over its left edge. The apron had been red-tainted and hardened considerably by a steady profusion over time of blood and bodily fluids.
“Fucken hell, doc, didn’t fancy a scrub-up ‘forehand, did’ye?”
“Now, now, Colm,” he soothingly intoned. “I am the professional in this situation, as my well-worn garments should illustrate. There is no need concern yourself with ideas above your station.”
“But I thought yez were a doctor of the mind?”
“Dear boy – there are many eventualities to the psychoanalytic process!” he chuckled. “Would you mind awfully if I asked you to go and sit down in the seat?”
There was but one seat in the middle of the seating gallery; made from iron and built with gigantically framed individuals in mind, it was more akin to a machine of industry than a comfortable resting place. Colm slowly edged towards it as the realisation dawned upon him of what else it reminded him of. At first he would have said a barber’s chair, with all its popping spokes, but another, perhaps more pertinent memory came drifting back to him through the ether; it was a couple of months prior to these events, when he was at the newspaper stand outside the Calgary St. boozer, finding heretofore undiscovered shades of shit to kick out of some jumped up cockney scam artist. Usually he would have been out on the nick himself, but this tooler had caught him unawares with a devilish bit of fine-wiring, brushing past Colm lightly but giving the game away by visibly sneaking something into his pocket; a fine way of inviting a good bludgeoning. Once he had pinned him down on the pavement, Colm began grabbing newspapers from the stand and wrapping them around the head of the petty criminal as he spluttered garbled protestations, silencing them by jamming further rolls of newsprint in his mouth. One that he draped across his ugly mug until he ripped through it with his teeth was fronted by an unmistakeable image; or, rather, two images placed side by side for contrast – those of a gallows being torn down by civic workers, and the new piece of equipment that replaced it; a mechanised chair adorned by a multitude of straps and wires. Although Colm could not read, one word he recognised was unmistakeable enough – ‘America’ – to reassure him that British wrongdoers were still hanged by the neck until dead, yet as he stood in the operating theatre he could not help but wonder if he had inadvertently volunteered to play the convicted man in the dress rehearsal for a new ceremony of death.
“Aye, doc, I dinnae know about this…” he was hesitant to take the seat, so sort of hovered over it, leaning over and then drawing back.
“Come on, Colm, there is nothing to be afraid of. I assure you no harm will come of you.”
“Jus’ tell me this in’t one of those American instruments…”
“Dear boy, please! There is very little about this blessed contraption that could be described as ‘American’, beyond the fact certain parts were shipped over from none other than Mr. Thomas Edison himself.”
“I dinnae know who that is…”
“Oh, how much you have to learn, boy. But first…you must sit in the chair.”
Colm’s buttocks squirmed on the hard metal seat as Württemberg’s people attached a tight iron helmet to his head. Its dimensions reminded him of his bedpan back at Wormley. Next, his wrists were strapped to the arms of the chair, and his ankles to its legs. Two wires were pulled across his chest like a pair of braces – a nurse tugging each end, spreading out across the floor into an ‘X’ shape – and wrapped around the back of the chair, the nurses handing them to a technician who connected them all to the mainframe of the mechanism, which seemed to sit at its base.
“Nurse Trinket,” Dr. Württemberg requested of his clear favourite. “would you care to fetch my necessities trolley?”
“Are you quite sure the trolley shall be a necessity today, Dr. Württemberg?” she asked.
“I am certain. This is sure to be a procedure of the utmost complexity, and it is essential that I be equipped in a manner that is beyond merely adequate. I implore you to fetch the thing.”
She returned swiftly with a trolley loaded to the hilt with cocaine; stacked up in little white molehills upon golden platters.
“My sincerest platitudes,” he told Trinket gratefully, snorting the peak off one of his Alpine knolls. “Well, gentlemen,” he looked up to the gallery, acting as the compere of his own vaudevillian enterprise, “It looks like we may at last proceed,” he paced up and down with his back to his audience and his eyes on Colm, whom he stood a meter or so away from – a curiously safe distance. “Listen to me carefully, Colm. My technician,” the grubby mechanic doffed his cap, “is about to, on my order, switch the machine to the first of three settings. It is imperative that you understand the effects these three settings will have upon your state of being in order to prevent any sorts of crises of adjustment – the kind one is wont to experience upon ingesting an unfamiliar mental stimulant. Speaking of which; anaesthetise the patient!” Nurse Trinket started towards the necessities trolley but was roundly rebuked by her employer, “Not from the trolley, woman! You know full well we have buckets for this purpose.”
Shrugging, she bent to the floor and heaved a bucket of white powder towards the chair, chucking a generous helping of it in Colm’s face and causing him to sneeze profusely. He was getting into the swing of things by now, undeterred by Württemberg’s last statement because he had more of an idea of the eventual advent of television than he did what “anaesthetise” meant.
“Aye, loving the sniff, doc!”
“Yes, quite. But, to continue, once my technician has pressed down that switch you shall feel a short electromagnetic pulse,” a palpable sense of fear began to creep through Colm once more, “short, I assure you…but perhaps sharp. And then, you should begin your transformation into a creature of the ego, which is the first state of consciousness you shall inhabit today…other than, of course, your natural one, and that which is induced by the coca plant. When my technician hits the switch you shall become entirely sensible, pragmatic and rational, processing your thoughts along the lines of how they can be constructively applied to the situation in which you find yourself.”
“Is there to be a physical transformation, sir?” a wide-britched, moustache-twirling gentleman in the audience stood up to inquire.
“I beg your pardon?”
“A physical transformation, sir, into some sort of beast.”
“No, Lord Ellison; as I have previously explained, my work exists within the confines of the human brain,” explained Württemberg.
“But then what shall the brain transform into?” huffed the puzzled peer.
“Nothing, my lord – it shall merely function in a different manner.”
“I see,” Ellison paused, then hoisted his stack of papers up under his arm and walked out of the room, muttering “stuff and nonsense…”
“Well, with such pertinent questions clarified, perhaps now we may proceed.”
He nodded to the technician, and a succession of lights on the outside of the room were shut off, ensconcing the onlookers in blackness and illuminating only those immediately involved in the procedure. Württemberg took a toot from his trolley of gear and edged to the perimeter of his stage, producing a quill and a pot of ink and laying them on the table his apron had previously sat upon, brushing thorny surgical implements out of the way in order to rest his notebook in their wake. The nurses and the rest of the doctor’s co-conspirators crowded around him, backed up against the sides of their enclosure. The technician ambled towards the machine and knelt behind it. He stood up. He nodded again. Württemberg did likewise. The technician bent down and flicked the switch.
Electricity coursed through Colm’s frame, curdling his blood and making his bones feel like knives that had wormed their way into his fragile flesh. He screamed. Bright lights flickered in circular motions in the core of his eyes like projectile Catherine wheels, ripping through him, more physically and mentally tangible than even the unprecedented electrical excesses of the operating theatre. Then black. He was knocked out. But…
“For God’s sake, apply the anaesthetic!” Trinket bunged the bucket’s contents onto his face with a snowy puff. “And fetch my croissants, I beg of you.”
Colm’s orbit returned to the room once more. He coughed and snorted and gurgled and sneezed. He dragged his eyes open as if they were a pair of faulty, stiffened shutters on a smudged window, the shapes before him ever so slowly regaining some semblance of their being nurses, or the technician, or Württemberg. Somebody walked up to him, their white garment dissolved into an indistinct mess somewhere between white and red. Guts and gore on a canvas of white linen; enough focus had returned to tell him this was the Austrian.
“How the devil are you feeling? I feel I should take it upon myself at this point to reassure you that you have proven yourself a most courageous individual.”
“Aye, I know that, doc,” Colm croaked. “I feel like a condemned man at the end of his run.”
“A little less cynicism, please, Colm – a little less pessimism,” sighed Württemberg. “This is ephemeral discomfort; it will all be forgotten in good time.” he turned to his staff. “Where in God’s name are those damnable croissants?!” Nurse Trinket promptly skidded up to the doctor with a tray packed with the doughy French delicacies, one of which he snatched from her, jamming it wholesale into his mouth. “Mm,” he munched. “About damn time!” He danced over to his trolley and consumed another mound of his drug of choice, leaping up with an exalted sniff and bounding towards Colm. “I am obliged to ask you some questions, my boy!”
“What kinda questions?”
“The objective of the exercise is to assess the level to which your mental activity correlates with psychoanalytic theories on the psyche.”
“As such, my first question is a rather abstract one, pertaining to your decision-making capabilities; were you to witness a vagrant picking your pocket and then walking away, what would your reaction be?”
Colm was spooked. “I, ah…”
“Please, my boy, immediate reactions here…”
Of course Colm would duff the bastard up, of course; but…BUT…how many beatings had he taken from heavy-handed bobbies when he’d deigned to administer some vigilante justice? No, maybe…
“I’d have a gander up the street for a copper whilst I kept my eye on the rotter.”
“What if he ran?”
“Then I’d run too.”
“Would you physically attack such a criminal?”
“If I needed what he’d taken and there was no other way. No use in causing a hassle and getting myself in trouble when that bastard’s the one beggin’ tae get nicked, not me.”
“Yes…that constitutes a most satisfactory answer.” Württemberg seemed pleased. He fired several more questions at Colm, who seemed extremely decisive, as well as extremely obliging – possibly because he had done the mental mathematics and deduced that, the more cooperative he was, the sooner his ordeal would be over. Maybe then he would quietly assimilate into the gentry, entering high society on the strength of a name synonymous with innovation…well, first he must assume the manners of a gentlemen. This could be his icebreaker at the lavish balls of his future; aye, they got me hopped up on American snuff and shot electricity through me in their American death chair… “Nurse – fetch the neck oil. Prepare to enter stage two!”
Württemberg was guzzling beer. Colm had given him consent to pour a pint down his throat, gradually, whilst he remained strapped to the contraption – further, and necessary, anaesthesia according to the good doctor. Naturally, he now had Nurse Trinket running back and forth from the pantry with the stuff – she appeared not to have performed any sort of actual medical action in the course of the entire day. Slurping his pint, Württemberg was detailing the machine’s second level;
“I saw with my own two eyes today how my invention made you – a feral Scotsman, vulgar by virtue of his impecunities, uneducated and with a predilection towards criminal activity – finally grasp self-preservation, and with it self-worth, a little Machiavelli for the…ages…” his eyes began to pop as his sentence trailed off. He was no longer looking at Colm, but staring into space indeterminably. “AAAAAAAGGGHHH!” he screamed, “the urges! The urges! I am overcome by the urges!” he stumbled backwards, banging into his necessities trolley and almost knocking it over. Cocaine blew to the floor with an inaudible patter. “HELP!” he snorted several lines, writhing around as he headed for the door, frantically ripping his belt off and unbuttoning his trousers, tripping up on them as they slipped down his legs, his hand irrepressibly bound for his undergarments, pumping…
“I do apologise,” one of Württemberg’s deputies took centre stage, clasping his hands together repentantly. “Dr. Württemberg appears to be experiencing some sort of technical difficulty regarding his trousers.”
At the back of the room, the entire team of nurses – and the technician – were working to restrain Dr. Württemberg, who was gobbing and flailing and screaming blue murder; “Ich möchte, dass Ihr Kopf auf einer Platte, Vater!”
“…it must be the new pair he is wearing today. I shan’t be giving the tailor in question my custom any longer, I can assure you…”
“Somebody prepare our esteemed friend a large portion of cocaine!” somebody yelled helpfully from the audience.
Württemberg returned to the stage, wiping sweat from his brow and something else from down below, flanked by his team of supportive employees. He broke loose from their scrum-like embrace and nasally devoured the remaining mounds of his botanical extract from one end of the table to the other, prompting applause from the audience. Like Lazarus, he had risen.
“Nurse – head to the pantry and replenish my supply of this wondrous medicine…the elixir of life… ÜBER…COCA!” he preached, his arms aloft. “My friends, I apologise for this brief interlude – there are many eventualities to the psychoanalytic process. Consider it one as in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, whose latest production, I must add, I shall be viewing tonight at the Royalty Theatre, if any of my chums in the audience feel inclined towards a knees-up. Now; Colm, my boy, we must resume our original business of manually plunging the depths of the unconscious.”
“Aye, doc, we better plough on for time’s sake. If you want to get to your opera, that is.”
“I see you are still most rational. This is pleasing, for it could not be in starker contrast to the next function of this machine, which shall render you consumed by the id; a deliriously instinctual and impulsive creature as reckless as a baboon…perhaps more so. Adjust the lever, Mr Watts.”
The technician was called Watts. Agh! The electricity! The coca!
“What do you feel, boy?” he huffed some coke. “I need not ask you questions this time, because I want to know what is springing into your mind like the eruption of Vesuvius!”
Colm was still bristling from the shock; “Oh gan and fuck your fucking baboon, you poncy German cunt!”
“YES!” screamed Württemberg. “The eruption of the id! The awakening of man’s desire!” he grabbed Nurse Trinket and thrust her in front of Colm. “What would you like to do with this woman?”
“I’d like to…” Colm’s lip quivered. “I’d like to FUCK her! I’d like to befoul her dignity!”
“YES! So would I! So would- do you like to drink liquor?” he shoved Trinket to the side.
“Aye, I’m fucken boozed right now!”
“Because you fucken gave it to me, you stupid bastard!”
“Why do you like to drink liquor?”
“Because feels good sloshing around my belly and in my head.”
“Because I get up to mischief.”
“’Cause I don’t GIVE a fuck!”
“It truly is the id!”
“What the fuck is an id, you fucken intellectual? Why don’t you just stuff your fucken books up your arse-”
“That is quite enough of this particular stage of the demonstration, my friend. I propose we move swiftly on to the next one…”
“…the next one, in which this boisterous young man…”
“Oi bootlicker, you callen me names?”
“…will be rendered somewhat more obedient – somewhat more servile…”
“You’ll never make a servant outta me, Kaiser, I’m a free man!”
“…as he shall be governed by his superego, as we call it in my field; his susceptibility to authority and social order. We shall have before us a disciplined, strictly regimented dogsbody of society, ready to stand straight and salute – less a wild baboon than a performing monkey,” some of the spectators laughed. “do the honours, Mr Watts.”
But this time smoke began to rise from the machine, and everybody was extremely concerned;
“Should we fetch water?”
“Use the ale!”
“No! The ale has only exacerbated the machine’s failure!”
“No!” Württemberg’s face was a mask of panic as Colm hopped on the spot, jolted by enough electricity to burn down the remains of the Crystal Palace. “It was a perfectly functional machine! Curse you Edison and your damned parts! You have failed me, and you have failed mankind!”
“No one man should have all that power coursing through him!” cried a spectator. People were flooding out of the theatre in droves.
“Unplug the machine!” said one of the nurses.
“NO!” Württemberg screamed in their face as smoke billowed and Colm was subsumed by flames. “I shall not have my technician’s life placed at such grave risk! Nurse Trinket, wheel the heavenly elixir of the coca plant to safety, whenceforth we must evacuate the premises, my friends! And those of you of refined cultural preferences, when night has fallen we shall meet once more at the Royalty.”